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>> i'm anderson cooper. reporting tonight from the kennedy space center in florida. earlier today thousands upon thousands of people lined the atlantic coast in central florida to witness the last launch of an american icon as the space shuttle atlantis blasted off for the very last time and roared into space. >> liftoff. the final liftoff of atlantis on the shoulders of the space shuttle america will continue the dream. >> atlantis will rendezvous with an international space station and bring a year's worth of supplies to the six crew members currently aboard before returning to earth to officially mark the end of the program. so after 30 years, why is the space shuttle program coming to an end? what will nasa ace next great adventure be and could commercial space travel be on the horizon? here's a special report from cnn's john zerella, "beyond atlantis: the last frontier".
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main engine start. >> shuttle has cleared the tower. >> the spacecraft that launches like a rocket and lands like a plane. >> touchdown. >> the beginning of a remarkable era. >> what we did in shuttle over 30 years dwarfed what was done in the apollo era. >> but 135 missions later, the space shuttle program is being eliminated. what's next for nasa? >> mars isn't 20 years in the future for the last 30 years. >> and could commercial space travel be on the horizon? >> hello. i'm john zarrella. and this is the space shuttle atlantis. on the 17th of may it rolled from the orbiter processing facility to the vehicle assembly building a quarter mile away. the last time a shuttle would make the journey.
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a glorious, sometimes tragic era one step closer to the end. but was it worth it? three decades in low earth orbit not venturing outward. >> folks, how are you doing? >> if you asked the man commanding the last shuttle flight, it was a successful program. we essentially have command of lower earth orbit. >> the challenger has landed. >> if you ask the men who walked on the moon. >> once you've been to the moon, staying home is not good enough. i'm an exploration guy. i want to go where man has never gone before. >> i was strolling on the moon one day in the merry merry -- >> before gene cernan, the last man to walk on the moon had made his journey, nasa had a new grand vision. a reusable spacecraft. >> i have a model here of the space shuttle. as you see it --
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>> from the beginning it was a marvelous machine, releasing from its cargo bay deep space probes like ulysses that went to jupiter. astronauts ventured out untethered. >> to capture and retrieve failed satellites, dead in space, dangerous feats unheard of before shuttle. >> houston, i think we've got a satellite. >> the great observatory hubble dazzles with breath-taking images of the universe and its ability to see galaxies born nearly at the dawn of time. >> shuttle has arrived onboard atlantis with the arm. >> hubble was launched, repaired and serviced from shuttle. every major building block of the football field-long space station was carried up and assembled from shuttle. before becoming nasa's head man, charlie boldin was an astronaut. he flew four shuttle flights including the hubble launch.
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>> the international space station is the crowning jewel of the shuttle program. it represents the culmination. it's the perfect ending for the shuttle program. >> and it did something else. before the shuttle not a single woman or person of color had flown on a u.s. spacecraft. >> my going to space, you know, if i want to get personal, or women going to space would have never occurred without the space shuttle. >> the shuttle was proclaimed and sold as a vehicle that could fly 25 or 30 times a year. it never did. jeff greason was on president obama's blue ribbon committee that laid out pathways for future u.s. space exploration. >> if you think the goal was to develop low-cost, reliable space transportation and that it was not successful. >> and it never produced revolutionary scientific or medical breakthroughs.
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in the early years, nasa pushed to prove shuttles could fly often. weather was often a problem. no more so than on a brutally told january morning in 1986. >> it all boiled down to it was human arrogance. the top management was not listening to the engineers on the line. >> warnings that it was too cold to launch were ignored. >> challenger, go with throttle up. >> challenger exploded less than two minutes into flight when a joint in one of the boosters compromised by the frigid temperature failed. the shuttle would never be viewed again as the answer to inexpensive, safe access to space. >> this is the author? >> yeah. >> all right. you have a lot of explaining to do.
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the coors can, the lite can. >> the baseball. >> he played a lot of ball. >> lorna onezuka rarely talks publicly about what happened and the years since. her husband, ellison, was one of the seven onboard challenger. >> ell and i understood that something could happen. we just kind of hoped that it never would. >> obviously he was okay with accepting the risk. >> he did. he was very well prepared for it. >> lorna's deepest heartache was for her two daughters. >> she came in. and she said, i want you to die today. and i was like really stunned. and before i could say anything she said, but you can come alive again on tuesday. and i don't know what that was. but so i said why? and she said, because i need to ask daddy some things, and then
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he began be dead again and you can come alive. but i have to ask him some things. >> lorna didn't go to shuttle launches for five years after the accident. since then she's been to nearly all of them. it is sad, she says, to see it end. >> do you think it was worth it? >> yeah. i do. i think a lot of it is because i think ell would have thought it was worth it. >> the shuttle program came back from challenging and came back again after columbia. lost re-entering the atmosphere, debris was scattered across north texas. and although tarnished, the shuttle has been america's only way to put humans in space. >> i defy anybody -- and i will argue with my apollo comrades -- the accomplishments, the achievements, the record of performance, the spinoffs, the
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capabilities that have been developed. what we did in shuttle 30 years dwarfed what was done in the apollo era. >> we can build spacecraft. we can build boosters. but there's no goal, no mission. we are wandering in the desert in space today. period. >> so why now? why call it quits now? from the time of its inception 40 years ago until the shuttles are retired, the program will have cost the american taxpayers just shy of $115 billion. that's less than $4 billion a year. a drop, if that, in the federal budget. still, the problem is money. >> there's just not enough money in nasa to continue the existing programs and start a new program at the same time. >> but it's ending now leaves a gaping hole.
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>> the nation was not very disciplined in developing the replacement for shuttle so that we wouldn't find ourselves where we are right now. >> the soyuz spacecraft. >> where we are right now is relying on the russians to ferry our astronauts to and from the space station at a cost of $63 million a seat. >> we're ceding that leadership back to the same people by a different name. the russians today. they were soviets then. but we're saying, okay, here it is. we're giving it back to you. >> once atlantis lands, bringing the shuttle program to a close, there's no other choice until commercial space companies are ready. that's more than three years away. and nasa won't have its own new rocket ready until at least 2016. but there's no turning back. >> was it time? >> yes. it was time.
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and it has been time for some time to phase out of shuttle and go back to exploration. >> whether you hated it or hailed it, whether you felt it a waste or worth it, the shuttle was an iconic flying machine that symbolized america's inspiration and ingenuity. >> roger all. >> this is the crew hatch to the shuttle discovery. she made 39 trips to space. i'll take you inside with one of her commanders coming up. what do you got? restrained driver... sir, can you hear me? just hold the bag. we need a portable x-ray, please! [ nurse ] i'm a nurse. i believe in the power of science and medicine. but i'm also human.
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i never thought this would happen, an opportunity to actually step inside space shuttle. if i can get in. i know most of the astronauts are a little bit smaller than i am. this is great in there. wow. >> welcome aboard the space shuttle. >> thank you, commander. >> we're on the mid deck right now. >> these days, bob kabana runs the kennedy space center. before that he just happened to be an astronaut. flew in space four times, twice
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as pilot, twice as commander. his first two trips he was pilot of discovery. he knows every inch. >> how many seated on the mid deck? >> if you're flying a crew of seven you've got three folks down here, so -- >> discovery is the first vehicle being retired. when all the cleanup is done, freon, ammonia, pyrotechnics, she'll be turned over to the smithsonian. not easy says stephanie still sohn. i caught up with her earlier in the day. >> there's not a single person at kennedy space center that didn't want to continue to fly the shuttles. >> for 11 years her job was to make sure discovery was ready to fly. her job now? make sure discovery is museum ready. >> and we do think of discovery as a family member. we've taken care of her for all these years. and it's going to be hard for many people to realize that we're no longer responsible for that, that someone else has to do that for us. so it's going to be a big change for some folks.
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>> stillson always dreamed of being a launch director. no woman has ever held that job. but for now, nasa has nothing for her to launch. back onboard -- >> let's go to the air lock. >> we'll take a look in the air lock. >> crawl about 12 feet. >> i'm going to drag these cables in, too. >> on the other end is the shuttle's cargo bay, spacious enough to hold a school bus. over the 39 flights of discovery, dozens of astronauts in space suits have been at this exact vantage point, waiting to step out to repair a satellite or build the space station. >> you can grab the hand hold here, and then just keep coming. put a hand up here and you can pull yourself right on up. >> we're climbing the ladder to the flight deck. in the weightlessness of space just float your way up. >> i'm allowed the privilege of the commander's seat. >> there's a lot of butts that sat here. i guess i shouldn't touch.
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>> john, we're on the flight deck of discovery. the commander sits in the left seat. the pilot sits in the right seat. >> the windows are covered with sun shields. >> there's three window pane. protective, pressure and thermal pane. about this thick, each one. and you know how you get rock chips and star bursts in your windsheeld? >> every one of my flights i've had micrometeorite dings on that. >> sitting here, cabana is reminded of a liftoff on endeavor. >> what a ride. just the sense of speed and acceleration. >> there's main engine start. pretty soon you'll see the srbs, a lot of shaking and vibrating. >> you're pushed back in your seat. and the last minute you hit that 3g acceleration again and you're 3gs and it's hard to breathe. all of a sudden you hit nik,o and you come forward in your seat like that.
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>> i tell you, though, my first flight i did not look out the windows at all. i was staring right at the main engine -- >> you were sitting right there. >> right here. and i was making sure that everything was working. i was not looking out the window. i have to admit all my flights were unique. and they're all special. it's kind of like asking which one of the kids is your favorite. but i think that last flight. >> we have booster ignition and liftoff of the space shuttle endeavor with the first american element of the international space station. >> being able to go inside the space station for the first time. unbelievable. >> so many people have tried to describe what it's like when you're on reentry. what you're seeing coming back. >> what i remember is just this orange white glow out the window. and little pieces of something, sparks just kind of like flying by. and i just remember when we landed, i did not want to get out of the commander's seat.
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they were trying to get me out. it's like, this is my spaceship. you can't have it. i just didn't want it to end. i just wanted it to go on. it was great. >> and now it really has. coming up. the booster ignites. the flame pours from its nozzle. the end of an era is here. [ bird chirping ] ♪ [ doug ] i got to figure this out. ♪ [ dr. ling ] i want to spend more time with my patients. [ jim ] i need to build a new app for the sales team in beijing. [ mrs. davis ] i need to make science as exciting as a video game. ♪ [ jim ] i need to push out a software upgrade. [ dr. ling ] review ms. cooper's history. [ doug ] i need to cut i.t. costs. [ mrs. davis ] i need to find a way to break through. [ jim ] i need to see my family while they're still awake. [ dr. ling ] see if the blood work is ready. [ doug ] i need to think about something else when i run. ♪
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the train rolls south down florida's east coast. it passes crossings at saint augustine. flagler beach. daytona, new smyrna.
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under the protective tarps, space shuttle's last solid rocket boosters, the destination kennedy space center. onboard, people who build them, launch them and ride them to space. all that is clear is uncertainty. >> what do you do when the shuttle stops flying? >> well, let's see. i'm a launch director and there'll be no launches to direct. and so i don't really know. >> in both years and miles, the end of the line is much, much closer now. three months earlier, a couple thousand miles from florida, a transporter moves slowly through the falling snow. it is carrying one of those last massive booster segments to the rail yard 20 miles away. without the boosters, space shuttles could not fly.
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this is promontory, utah, near salt lake city, home to atk aerospace systems. for 37 years they have been testing -- >> we're going to take it over 180 degrees. >> -- and building the shuttle's solid rocket boosters here. >> this is a typical space shuttle segment. >> for 34 of those years, phil jepson says he's touched the heavens with each booster he helped build. >> can you imagine you spent your -- i mean, a good portion of your adult life building come components for a space vehicle? >> yes. it's been the most wonderful experience i've really had. this has been my life since i was 21. >> and a way of life passed from generation to generation. >> we span a period of about 50 years between my father hired on in 1959, retiring in 1990.
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i came out like i told you in '77. and it's just been our livelihood. i have two boys now that are currently employed here. >> there are many here just like phil jepsohn. the ride has been good but it's over. they know it. yet they push ahead with their work. as each of the last booster segments is loaded on the transporters, the future becomes more uncertain. where do they go from here? what do they do next? in the past two years, 2100 people have been laid off. 45% of the workforce. they've seen tough times here before. >> liftoff at the 25th space shuttle mission. >> my controller's looking very carefully at the situation. obviously a major malfunction. >> 1986, a failed seal in one of the boosters failed here led to
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the accident. >> this place mourned just like anybody else. it was a part of it. and it was a tough moment. with the public opinion even a little sour, we persevered. and we went through the redesign. and we have produced reliable motors for the past 20 years. totally reliable. >> this is the forward segment we're looking at? >> forward segment, yes. >> jeff canten and his son ryan both work here. uncertainty is frightening. >> whether i have to go to another industry, if i've got to go move out-of-state, those type of things. that's what goes through my mind as we finish this off is the anxiety for the future. >> for ryan's dad, the sky is not just for himself and his son. it doesn't sit well, not at all, that shuttle is ended and there's nothing to replace it. it doesn't sit well, not at all, that for at least a few years the u.s. will have to rely on someone else's rocket to get to the space station.
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>> at least in my mind you would think that we would want to employ our people rather than give russia or other people the opportunity to take our astronauts in space. we need jobs. >> the job in promontory is not quite over. a solid rocket booster, 126 feet long and 12 feet in diameter, sits in a test stand. in a bunker not far away, the team runs through a countdown rehearsal. >> central has control of the sequence here. >> the booster is identical to the ones being shipped to the space center. the test will ensure the manufacturing processes are absolutely perfect. >> pressure at 392 psia. >> this will be the 52nd test since 1977. also the last. >> the countdown is proceeding. >> the event is historic. two days later, on a mild
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february morning, thousands of people with their children and their cameras have come to watch. the booster ignites. the flame pours from its nozzle. in two minutes, it's done. nearly four decade of building shuttle boosters is over. the ride down florida's east coast is nearly over, too. the train is not far from the kennedy space center. reality is difficult to digest. >> mostly i feel so very lucky for just an ordinary guy like myself to have been lucky enough to participate in something like this. it's been real special. >> in both years and miles, the end of the line is now much, much closer. >> so where is nasa going next?
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surrounded by the blackness of deep space, 117 million miles from earth, is the asteroid vesta. images captured by a nasa probe. in the not too distant future, u.s. astronauts could be looking out the window at a sight just like this. >> i can either float along it or i can have a tether to me and i can sample rocks, i can chip a rock.
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>> astronaut mike gernrardt and his team are working on the kind of equipment and techniques they'll need for human exploration of an asteroid as early as 2025. before either the moon or mars. >> what we're doing is building a simulated asteroid underwater. >> and this is not some high tech laboratory. it's key largo, florida. and because money is tight -- >> we're all about being cost effective. glad bag type of thing. >> not everything they're developing is some fancy state-of-the-art widget,. >> this is a soil collection device. it does a lot of things on earth that you want to pick up without touching. >> for instance, this quite valuable earth-tested device. >> what you're saying is that a pooper-scooper could be used on an asteroid and work perfectly. >> a specified version of a scooper could be used to scoop soil on an asteroid, yep. >> so now you've got the tools. how do you know they'll work?
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just go 5 miles offshore and jump in. beneath the surface at the site of an undersea habitat called aquarius -- >> we work there. we live there. we can put anchors. we built a rock wall like a climbing wall. we can climb up that wall in zero gravity. >> with the shuttle era over, nasa is going back to going outward. while most everyone agrees it does best. an asteroid could be the first stop, a baby step. because there's no gravity and an asteroid would be much closer, it's simply an easier first mission than mars. >> so once you get to mars or the moon or an asteroid, how are you going to get around? well, how about this? a multimission space exploration vehicle. at houston's johnson space center, the gernhardt team is
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developing a vehicle that can go to any destination, putting it through its paces on simulated heavenly surfaces. >> we're going down in the crater right now. >> going down in the crater now. hang on. >> oh, this is great. >> i bet you want to be driving, don't you, that first flight? >> i do. that's always been my dream. >> in his vision, astronauts would live and work for up to two weeks in his vehicle. >> you've got about three wheels on the ground. >> far more efficient, he says, than the old apollo moon buggies. >> instead of having to come home every night you just sleep in the vehicle. >> so we're coming up on the mars yard, appropriately named. >> you'll see here in a second how this vehicle can negotiate the rough terrain. >> wow. >> look. there's a cameraman on mars ahead of us. how did he get there? >> i don't know. >> alien life! >> in five years, gernhardt hopes to see his -- a good test.
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but before it can go any further out like to an asteroid, there's one big problem, getting it there. the space shuttle won't do the trick. it wasn't designed for deep space missions. and it's simply not safe enough. nasa administrator charlie boldin was a shuttle commander. >> crazy people like me, we'll do anything and we'll fly anything. but in order to expand the capability to bring more people into space flight, we needed a vehicle that had a capability for crews to escape. >> the new crew vehicle, bigger than the old apollo capsules, is already in the works. it will be, nasa says, ten times safer than a shuttle. putting it on top of the rocket, not on the side, gives the astronauts a better chance of surviving an accident. the escape system is already being tested. but to get the crew and all
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their supplies for a long journey out of the atmosphere, the space agency needs a powerful heavy-lift rocket. it's supposed to be ready by 2016. the first test vehicle might look a bit like this. because it's going to be built out of a lot of shuttle hardware, including a main fuel tank and reusable boosters that splash down in the atlantic. >> there it is. straight out. >> are recovered by divers and hauled back to shore. >> let's just say it's a rocket that i have difficulty finding the mission for. >> jeff greason was a member of president obama's blue ribbon committee on the future of exploration. greason worries it may never go anywhere. >> it's a very expensive thing for nasa to maintain. the result of that as i see it is if nasa does successfully launch this vehicle there will be no budget to do anything with it. >> it's a matter of national priority. >> norm augustin chaired the obama committee. he says if we don't see it through --
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>> china will try to do something very dramatic. india will. others will. perhaps the russians. and we'll be left behind. >> china, augustin says, is moving ahead at lightning speed developing its space program. the man commanding the last shuttle flight worries, too, talk of trips back to the moon and onto mars have always been, well, just talk. >> mars is always 20 years in the future. it's been 20 years in the future for the last 30 years. i'd like to see how committed we are this time. >> i'm not doing too bad. >> no. you're doing good. >> back at the rock yard in houston i wasn't going to let an opportunity to drive gernhardt's vehicle pass me by. >> that's amazing. i'm going to drive just a little bit further because this is as close as i'm ever going to get. >> if america's priorities don't
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include space, it may be the only opportunity any of us get. coming up, is it time for commercial space? >> we want to see a future where we are exploring the stars, where we're going to other planets, where we're doing the great thing that we read about in science fiction and in the movies. >> so, ah, your seat good? got the mirrors all adjusted? you can see everything ok? just stay off the freeways, all right? i don't want you going out on those yet. and leave your phone in your purse, i don't want you texting. >> daddy... ok! ok, here you go. be careful. >> thanks dad. >> and call me--but not while you're driving. we knew this day was coming. that's why we bought a subaru.
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t-minus 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. there are many amongst us who are visionaries. >> we have liftoff at the falcon nine. >> who are pioneers. >> falcon nine has cleared the tower. >> who are dreamers. >> but only a handful with deep enough pockets to do what only governments have done before. venture off this planet. >> people used to say it would be impossible to build your own spaceship and your own spaceship company and to take people into space. and that's the kind of challenge that i'd love to sort of prove them wrong. >> we want to see a future where we are exploring the stars, where we're going to other planets, where we're doing the great things that we read about in science fiction and in the movies.
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>> eli richard branson heads virgin galactic. both are using their considerable wealth to back bold attempts to make space travel as routine as bordering an airplane. >> we want to make space accessible to everyone. i mean, that's a revolutionary thing but it's incredibly exciting. >> there are several companies, some big, some small, who see as nasa moves on to distant planets that weightless region just above the atmosphere, just out of reach right now, becoming quite possibly a good investment. >> still want to develop a heavy lift rocket. but we've also got this hopefully flowering of private space flight. that's what's going to get us the hilton and the herts rent a cars in orbit. >> space x and virgin galactic are on the verge of not just opening but stepping through that door to the future.
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>> southeast of elephant butte dam on the rio grande river, not far from truth or consequences, new mexico, you come to a place down the end of a long two-lane road. here in the middle of nowhere, under a high blue sky is space port america. >> i always say it's where the old frontier meets the new frontier. >> chris anderson is executive director of the new mexico space port. to build the world's first commercial space port, nestled between the san andre yeas and the kabayez mountains, taxpayers anted up $207 million. a leap of faith. >> well, there's always risk in great opportunities. so there is a risk, but i see more opportunity out there.
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i think again the time is right for commercial space. >> the centerpiece is the terminal hangar facility, the anchor tenant? branson's virgin galactic company. the hangar will be home to virgin's mother ships and spaceships. a year and a half from now, if all the test flights go well, a mother ship will take off down this runway, flying the 50,000 feet and release a space plane tucked beneath it. the six civilian astronauts and two pilots will climb to 350,000 feet and experience weightlessness for four minutes. a price tag for the round trip, $200,000. branson and his family hold the first tickets. >> we've got extensive tests over the next 15 months before myself and my children go into space. and my wife won't forgive me if
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i don't bring the kids back. >> branson alludes to the risk. his spaceship employs unique technology. as it descends back to earth. >> extending the feather. >> feather's moving. >> the tail section rotates to a 65 degree angle, creating drag and slowing the vehicle. >> but that word "risk" creeps into every conversation about the retirement of shuttle and the commercialization of space. there is no denying it. no getting away from it. >> i consider it a risk. with big risks it's like investments come big rewards. we could also lose. >> communications with columbia were lost at 8:00 a.m. central time. >> risk. you just accept it. >> can you imagine how much difficulty people went through and how frustrated they were in the transition from horses to cars? but you've got to make these transitions.
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otherwise society doesn't move forward. >> so far, musk's space x falcon 9 rocket has performed well. on the last test the rocket put a spacecraft called dragon into orbit. the capsule landed back in the pacific. it was the first time anyone other than a government had successfully orbited a spacecraft and returned it to earth. >> we designed this to be super tough. you can beat the snot out of it and it will still work. >> next year, musk hopes to begin carrying cargo to the international space station, eventually astronauts. a commercial company replacing the space shuttle. >> docking is complete. >> but unless it's safe, nasa's administrators says no u.s. astronaut will be onboard. >> i cannot allow them to put us in jeopardy by not focusing on crew safety and the like. that's my job.
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>> the stakes are high. there is no turning back. >> please welcome the future space shuttle. >> the shuttle retired and astronauts left to ride in russian spaceships, nasa is counting on commercial companies to get it right, make it work. and the more they make it work, the more affordable it will become. >> that's the end of a particular era. and it's up to individuals like myself if you're in a position to be able to achieve wonderful things not to waste that position. >> feather's down and locked. >> liftoff for the falcon 9. >> when we return, saying good by to an american icon. >> i will be as proud as anybody there at the slf when we land.
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you're a doctor. you're a car doctor. maybe a car doctor. welcome. i understand you need a little help with your mortgage, want to avoid foreclosure. smart move. candy? um-- well, you know, you're in luck. we're experts in this sort of thing, mortgage rigamarole, whatnot. r-really? absolutely, and we guarantee results, you know, for a small fee, of course. such are the benefits of having a professional on your side. [whistles, chuckles] why don't we get a contract? who wants a contract? [honks horn] [circus music plays] here you go, pete. thanks, betty. we're out of toner. [circus music plays] sign it. come on. sign it. [honks horn] around the country. every single day, saving homes. we will talk it over... announcer: if you're facing foreclosure, make sure you're talking to the right people. speak with hud-approved housing counselors free of charge at...
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april 12, 1981. for astronauts john young and robert griffin this was finally the day.
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they would be the first to fly it to space. the new space transportation system sts called the shuttle had seen its share of development problems and delays. >> those tiles kept falling off, the engines kept blowing up. >> before it ever flew. >> and john and i thought it would be a good idea to fix those. >> young had flown twice on the gemini program and twice on apollo. walking and riding on the moon during apollo xvi. griffin was the rookie. >> it was only when we got inside of a minute that i looked at john and said i think we're really going to do it. that's when my heart rate went up. >> t minus 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4. we've gone from main engine start. >> the first stage, 8 1/2 minutes under thrust goes back so fast.
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on my first flight my eyes were like saucers. so that seemed like about 15 seconds. >> john, your heart rate hardly went up at all. but bob's went up to about 130 on ascent. >> i was excited. >> were you confident that you guys were going to get back okay? >> well, we had ejection seats if things went really south we could jump out. >> roger columbia on the nice ride. you're lofting a little bit. probably be slightly high at staging. >> we were doing lots of stuff. so we didn't really have time to concentrate too much on, hey, i finally did it. but we did take a moment every now and then to look out the window and enjoy it. >> columbia, houston, you guys did so good we're going to let you stay up there for a couple of days. you're going for orbit. >> we managed to fly the whole planned mission. nothing got cut short. and everything worked fine. >> everything worked. that was the amazing part. especially on re-entry. we didn't get burnt up.
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>> mach 9. >> when we were coming back i said -- >> what a way to come to california. >> it had been two days, six hours and 20 minutes since 1 million people crowded into titusville, cocoa beach and cape canaveral for the launch. now, nearly 30 years later, half a million people staked out their spots in the same places. among them, bobbie tenpin. he was 18 when his uncle, an aerospace company employee, brought him to see crippen and young lift off. now he was back. >> this is the end of an era. a decades-long era. and there will be nothing like it again. >> from georgia, bobbie brought his kids this time. spencer is 10. >> it's going to be awesome. >> briar 12. >> from here it's going to be a little bat going into the sky. >> it's going to be big, briar. >> maybe.
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>> it will be the final mission for discovery. >> on a warm february afternoon, discovery was about to make its final flight. history to be witnessed. >> wake them up in the middle of the night, take them out in the middle of the country to look at asteroids, meteor showers. and i want them to see the space shuttle take off. i've seen it and i want them to have the same opportunity. >> people pass the time playing games. gazing through binoculars, reading, waiting. >> we have how many minutes? >> 35. >> 35. >> so close. what could go wrong now? then murphy's law struck. >> there's a problem with the computer. they've got to work through the problem. got 20 minutes to get the problem fixed. >> oh, great. >> got to see it. the kids got to see it. >> they did. nasa resolved the problem. >> 20 seconds. 20 seconds. >> discovery lifted off.
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>> there it goes! go go go! >> for the thousands here, a moment etched in the collective memories. >> look at it! [ cheers ] >> oh, that's so cool. >> a moment to be savored, analyzed. >> i thought it would be a little louder. >> and of course, matured over time. >> i feel very lucky. >> for lorna onazuka with every launch there is a nod to the heavens and her son ellison who died on challenger. he accepted that risk and paid the price. >> i want to thank him for watching over these guys in the years since. because i think he died, shares their pride, shares their excitement, shares their glory. just from a different angle. >> the shuttle program has and will be celebrated, debated and critiqued.
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did it serve its purpose? was it worth the cost in both money and lives? when atlantis comes home the 135th mission, when the wheels stop, it will become part of history. >> there's going to be a nostalgia for the shuttle. were we ever that audacious to build spacecraft to do things like that? i will be as proud as anybody there at the slf when we land. this is hard. i shed tears of joy. we have done what i wanted to do. we have safely flown out the shuttle. it will at that moment when it's finally over that you'll be able to exhale, take a breath, understand the significance of the moment.
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